Fauna & Flora International makes progress in Tibetan Plateau

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is having an impact on communities and grassland habitat on the Tibetan Plateau.

The main focus of our work there is to help local people pursue sustainable livelihoods. Yak herding is an integral part of Tibetan culture yet overgrazing is threatening the fragile ecosystem. We are determined to find a way to balance biodiversity conservation and culturally appropriate, sustainable livelihoods.

That’s why FFI is working to help local people continue their herding but in a sustainable way. In Yushu County we are helping to address the problem of winter forage by working with communities with excess agricultural land to cultivate and sell fodder crops to people who would otherwise be unable to feed their livestock through the harsh winters. We have also raised awareness of the importance of sustainable management of grasslands among more than 1500 herders in Yushu.

We have also helped to establish a livelihood training centre for 14 villages. In Shiqu County our partner has facilitated the training of nearly 700 local people in handicraft production and stone-carving – traditional knowledge that is in danger of being lost to the younger generation. These skills can not only help herders diversify their sources of income but also help maintain their cultural heritage.

One of the most important sources of income for Tibetan herders comes from the harvesting and sale of ‘caterpillar fungus’. The fungus grows out of the larvae of moths which live in the alpine grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau. It fetches a high price in the Chinese medicine market and so supports the local economy on the Plateau. For many Tibetans the majority of their cash income comes from this source.

FFI and our partners are planning to investigate the ecology and economy of fungus production to better understand how it can be sustainably managed. For example, digging for the fungus can cause damage to the grasslands so we have worked with the local government to ensure harvesting licences carry information on how to collect it with minimum disturbance to soils and vegetation.

Photo credits: Dr Stephen Browne/FFI